Solomon Islands are fast becoming familiar with the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, but the Class of 2013 will be in a unique position when they open their campaign next week at Tahiti 2013. Next Wednesday’s opening will mark the first time a Pacific Islands nation has hosted a FIFA tournament, meaning the Melanesians will, for once, not be forced to depart their continent in order to rub shoulders with the world’s elite.
Now set for a fifth appearance at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, Solomon Islands have historically more than held their own at the global event. Though yet to reach their knockout stage, they have impressed with wins over Cameroon (2006), El Salvador (2008) and Uruguay (2009). The aim now is to reach new heights in their own backyard.
Experience and guile
Solomon Islands will not lack for experience on Tahiti’s golden sands with the team boasting players who have featured at all four previous tournaments in which the team has participated, notably prolific goalscorer James Naka and goalkeeper Fred Hale. So too, coach Gideon Omokirio offers significant experience having also participated in four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups as a player, he will this time be holding the coaching reins.
The Melanesians were the final team to secure passage to Tahiti 2013 with the Oceania qualifiers concluding just 16 days prior to the tournament. Omokirio, however, believes the team are well placed to carry their qualifying form into the tournament. "My opinion is that qualifying late is a positive for us,” he told FIFA.com. “We prepared well for the qualifiers and with our win we are carrying on with the same level of focus, fitness and momentum which we will use in the World Cup.
“However, at the same time it must be acknowledged that the lack of time has affected us in more than a few ways. One of them is that we did not have a recovery period for the players since we had to keep on training and that is a bit concerning.”
The Oceania champions will open their campaign against Netherlands next Thursday, before further Group B outings against South American champions Argentina and CONCACAF representatives El Salvador. “Without a doubt Group B is a tough one to be in considering that we have Argentina, one of the top teams in the world,” said Omokirio. “El Salvador did well in the last Beach Soccer World Cup and we are expecting them to be tough.
“To name a particular team, we think Netherlands will be difficult for us because we do not know much about their game style. We’ve had the privilege of playing El Salvador and watched Argentina in previous World Cups so we can prepare for them, this cannot be said for the Netherlands.”
Situated in the south-west of the Pacific Ocean in a collection of land masses that arch into neighbouring Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands are used to significant journeys any time they venture outside Oceania. This tournament, however, will be a very different experience for the Melanesians and Omokirio believes there are several pluses for his team.
“It is special in the way that in the past we hear about World Cups in distant places and when we attend we would have to travel many hours,” he said. “Now the World Cup is here, in our region, and it shows that Pacific islands countries can host such major tournaments, not only beach soccer, and I’m proud of this.
“Moreover, Tahiti is like our ‘home ground’ in a sense because we are familiar with the climate, the surroundings, so I think this is a very important advantage for us and also the Tiki Toa (Tahiti) as well.”